The proliferation of “shall-issue” legislation for CCW permits, advancements in technology and constant reminders that we live in a dangerous world have all contributed to the increased number of licensed carry holders. Nevertheless, there are still few CCW pistols that have risen to the level of “classic” among firearm pundits. So the question is, What does it take to be recognized by handgun connoisseurs as one of the most desirable CCW pistols? To answer this, three celebrated models are given a closer look.

Walther PPK

This is the most famous premium subcompact pistol. With origins dating back to the late 1920’s, the PPK is a blowback-operated semi-automatic design. Among the world’s first successful double-action semi-automatic pistols, it went on to become one of the most widely recognized and copied designs. While originally intended as a compact version of Walther’s PP (Police Pistol) for use by detectives, that was just the beginning of its popularity. The Walther PPK continues to appear everywhere, from motion pictures to historical events. It was the celebrated sidearm of the fictional James Bond and the real-world pistol Hitler used to commit suicide as Soviet Forces closed in on his bunker. Available in a variety of small calibers, the .380 chambering was its decreed format of choice among defensive pistoleros in the United States. Through the mid-1990s, the Walther PPK remained the one “cloak and dagger” pistol against which all others were measured. It is still highly prized today by CCW practitioners and handgun collectors.

Heckler & Koch P7M8

Following terrorist activity during the 1972 Olympics in Munich, the German police decided to upgrade their 7.65mm caliber handguns to the more powerful 9x19mm Parabellum. They sought an ambidextrous pistol, safe to carry with a loaded chamber and quick to draw and fire.

They eventually selected three different pistols for this mission, including one of the subcompacts chosen for our current comparison, the Heckler & Koch P7 (then called PSP). Incorporating a single-action trigger with a proprietary squeeze cocker in the grip and a ported gas system to reduce felt recoil, the P7 is arguably the fastest practical carry pistol of all time. Series production of the P7 began in 1979. The pistol was adopted by elite European military and police organizations. Over the years, the design was fine-tuned to meet the tastes of the American market (both police departments and private shooters), and in its most refined form the gun is designated P7M8.

Kahr PM9

The Kahr PM9 represents the state-of-the-art in today’s concealable pistols. Among those “in the know,” it is often cited as one of the best pocket pistols of all-time. When its buttery smooth DAO trigger is pressed, the PM9 releases a striker-operated firing pin and passive safety. The action is a Browning locked-breech and the barrel tolerances are among the most precise that you will find on any factory produced carry gun. As part of its patented design, Kahr pistols have a feed ramp offset to the left, allowing the trigger draw bar to lie flatter against the frame and reducing required slide width to just 0.90 inches on 9mm models. Kahr pistols are “shooters,” rated for +P ammunition with accuracy to rival full-sized sidearms.

Top Defensive Tools

We have one double-action hammer-fired blowback, one single-action striker-fired pistol with an internal ported gas compensator, and one double-action-only handgun with a polymer frame. It would be difficult to find guns designed for the same mission with less in common. And yet, they are all considered among the most highly desirable CCWs. How can that be?

A subcompact pistol is not a race gun designed to shoot steel plates at blistering speeds, nor is it a high-capacity sidearm that can lay down cover fire in prolonged action scene shootouts. In its purest form, a CCW is a real world defensive tool. Premium subcompact pistols are optimized to end lethal confrontations at close quarters. Because of their ease of concealment, these guns are the most likely to be present at any time of the day. Their abbreviated barrels clear leather faster than full-size pistols, and their compact slides are more resistant to an assailant’s attempts to disarm you or deflect your shots in close-range confrontations. Subcompact defensive pistols are held in the highest esteem, but the question remains: what criteria define these venerable sidearms as classics?

Many threads focus on the minimum requirements for a serviceable pistol. The gun must be able to shoot at least 200 rounds of the chosen carry load without interruption, must have combat accuracy, etc. That is all well and good. This is an analysis to bring us to the next level. The goal is to identify common characteristics of pistols established as far superior to “good” pistols. When we look closer at these three designs, there are some striking similarities lurking just beneath the surface.

Leading Factors In CCW

Comfort: It is often said that a pistol must be possible to conceal and comfortable to carry. That is an understatement. All three aforementioned pistols are not just possible to conceal, but downright easy. These are the kind of guns that you can almost forget that you are wearing. CCWs built to this specification are the ones that are carried habitually. As an added benefit, their thin grips may not even appear as a pistol in the event that they begin to print under a shirt when you reach across the table. In today’s high-tech world, the slight bulge on the belt that these guns make would not be as suspect as it would have been years ago. Choose the smallest gun that you would trust in a life-threatening emergency, one that you can grab along with your wallet and keys.

Durability: This is not only how tough the finish is on the pistol, or if it will perform after being dragged along the bottom of the ocean for six weeks. There are more critical things to consider, including the gun’s expected service life under normal conditions. This durability is especially important with subcompact pistols that fire full-power ammunition with much less mass than full-size pistols.

There is great wisdom to the old adage that one should “carry what you shoot and shoot what you carry.” While all three of these guns are small enough for daily carry, they are also built strong enough for regular sessions at the range and countless hours of dry fire practice. There are times when some shooters resort to “shoot a little and carry a lot” mouse guns, but those should not be confused with premium subcompacts. The latter are made as much for shooting as for carrying. For the smallest, shooting full-power ammo, spare parts should also be readily available to maintain performance and reliability. Changing recoil springs regularly can help ensure that the pistol locks up tightly, cycles properly and minimizes trauma absorbed by the frame. Remember, a classic CCW is able to resist rust and wear, as well as regular trips to the firing line.

Accuracy: While pundits argue what constitutes “combat level accuracy,” these three classic pistols are not part of that debate. These guns have a tendency to embarrass full-size pistols with their striking accuracy at realistic confrontational distances—especially CCW ranges. Many articles attempting to measure a pistol’s accuracy miss the practical mark. Shooting one-inch groups from 25 yards is great.

Bench-rest shooting and a Ransom Rest have little to do with defensive scenarios. More important is to have natural pointing ergonomics and the ability to reliably cycle, even if the shooter is off balance. Most gun tests generalize about acceptable combat accuracy being 5 inches at 25 yards—that doesn’t inspire my confidence. These classic subcompacts feature speedy accuracy at 10 yards, double-taps delivered within millimeters at center mass, triggers that can be managed under stress, and they can produce a ragged hole in the bullseye when the smoke clears.

Discretion: All CCW pistols should be hidden during carry and discreet once drawn. While the stainless and two-tone pistols shown here may look good, many prefer their classic subcompacts to be all business—black. They are thin and tight, with a low bore axis that sits deep within the operator’s hand. If you need to employ a firearm in a life-threatening emergency you want to have the benefit of surprise. If you draw your pistol and then decide that you do not have to fire, it’s best if you can discreetly re-holster without alarming bystanders or responding officers.

Quick Deployment: One thing is certain, whatever you prefer you must be able to deploy your weapon quickly! By nature, CCWs are defensive tools and reacting to an imminent threat, by definition, does not include any time to spare. “When you need a handgun, you need it bad and you need it fast.” These premium subcompact pistols feature naturally pointing ergonomics, can be effectively operated with one hand if necessary, and are the epitome high-speed/low drag. They also feature designs that allow them to be safely carried with a round in the chamber, even in deep-concealment situations.

While these three pistols all have interesting designs and unique operational features, it is what they have in common that ultimately makes them “Classics.” These guns were all produced with an intelligent passion that makes them exceptional performers for their intended mission.

Up Next


The proliferation of “shall-issue” legislation for CCW permits, advancements in technology and constant reminders…